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27.12.2012 21:47

The Year 2012 in Georgian Media

Maia Tsiklauri
Media Discusions

In 2012 the main changes in media have been made in the aftermath of the Parliamentary Elections. In particular some of the televisions were closed down and TV companies changed hands. In the pre-election period the adoption of Must-Carry rules and the launch of TV 9 were the main happenings. Georgian media 2012 looks as follows in details:

1. Adoption of Must Carry and Must Offer rules

On June 28 the Parliament of Georgia adopted draft bill on Must Carry through first hearing. Amendments were made to the Election Code according to which cable companies were obliged to carry all of the TV companies, per broadcasting zones, from the announcement of the E-day to the E-day. As a result of the amendments the residents in the regions were offered a possibility to watch Maestro and TV 9.

The request for the endorsement of the Must Cary rule was made by the This Concerns You campaign which was launched on February 13, 2012 to protest the 2011 legislative amendments made to the Law on Political Unions of Citizens, a well as Election and Criminal Codes of Georgia.

2. Launch of TV 9 and INFO 9

On April 30 a new television TV 9 launched broadcasting. The channel is owned by PM Bidzina Ivanishvili’s spouse Ekaterina Khvedelidze. The channel holds license for Cable and satellite broadcasting and at the very launch it was also available online and via cable company Global TV. Other cable companies, prior to the entry of Must Carry rules into force, refused to carry the channel. Kakha Bekauri has been appointed to the position of director of the channel. Everything Starts With Question has been made into the slogan of the television.  

In the aftermath of the Parliamentary Elections the reorganization of the channel was announced. Within the framework of the reorganization Kakha Bekauri quit his position. He was replaced by Luba Eliashvili. Having  assessed her coming into top position as a  threat to meddling into editorial independence some of the journalist quit the company. Eliashvili said TV 9 was going to be made from news into general type of broadcaster.

TV 9-owned news agency INFO 9 was launched in May. The goal of the agency was to raise Georgian citizens’ awareness of the developments in the regions. Different media outlets had a possibility to use the information provided by the agency free of charge. In November INFO 9 reduced it staff and started operation according to the principle of market economy. The pieces of news provided by the agency were no longer available for free. According to the management of the agency further existence of the agency will depend on the demand for its production. 

3. TV Company PIK Closes Down

On October 20 GPB’s third Russian-language Channel PIK suspended its operation. At the time the Public Broadcaster terminated all of the contracts, stating that the suspension of contracts was reasoned by the unsanctioned display of the third channel of the GPB on a satellite (Globcast) “with which the Public Broadcaster with which GPB had terminated relations. According to the contract signed in early 2012 TV Company PIK LLC was due to manage the third channel until the end of the year. As a result of the closure of the cannel 400 people were made unemployed. The TV company was being funded from the State budget and for 2012 GEL 14 mln was apportioned for the channel. Later on, October 29, 2012 60 percent of the TV Company PIK LLC shares was handed over to Šviesa LLC based four days earlier.

4. Tax Amnesty for Televisions

On October 15 Alexander Khetaguri, acting Minister of Finance released a statement on the decrease in overdue tax arrears and sanctions imposed. According to him the initiative of decreasing the arrears would be conducive to securing stable financial condition of broadcasters, development of TV market and increasing competition, that would enable TV companies to develop in every way. According to the Revenue Service data Imedi TV and Rustavi 2 had State arrears accumulated – GEL 14 mln and GEL 5,500,000 respectively. The Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) owed the State GEL 3 mln, Trialeti TV and Saqartvelo both had the State arrear of GEL 10,000. Trialeti TV alleged the company had made no request to the government for the reduction in the sum to be paid.

Later on the recently elected government got concerned into the issue, to be further studied by the Prosecutor’s Office, according to new Finance Minister Nodar Khaduri.

5. TV Companies Change Hands

-TV Company Imedi was handed back the family of businessman Badri Patarkatshishvili. The owners of Imedi holder Georgian Media Productio Group LLC have conceded the company to Bardi Patarkatsishvili’s widow Ina Gudavadze at the price of GEL 4. According to Gudavadze, they have regained the company on the ground of agreement with the government that implied a peaceful process of transfer. After having lost Imedi in 2007, the Patarkatsishvili’s family has had no desire to appeal to the court.

- On October 9, 2012, TV Company Guria was transferred to Khatuna Sioridze, daughter of its former owner Merab Sioridze. Sioridze considered Maklhaz Sabaze as an illegal owner and judicial contest was launched in order to retrieve Guria.  Later, on November 14, Mzera TV, owned by businessman Vano Chkhartishvili’s son Mikheil Chkhartishvili, purchased 51%  share of the channel from Khatuna Sioridze.

-TV Channel 25 has changed several owners - on February 24, 2012, Giorgi Surmanidze sold his 50% share to Jemal Verdzadze at USD 150,000.  The owners of the rest 25-25% share Merab Merkviladze and Merab Verdzadze sold them to Levan Kardava, who later refused the channel’s ownership and in turn sold his 50% share to the second owner Jemal Verdzadze on October 29. After approximately 2 weeks the owner of TV company changed again. On November 12, Jemal Verdzadze returned 49% to Giorgi Surmanidze for USD 147, 000. Jemal Verdzadze currently owns 51 % share of the company, and Giorgi Surmanidze owns 49%.

- Real TV ceased its news outlet after the parliamentary elections, grounding that on the decision of switching over to the 24 hour information network. Without restoring the outlet, the owner of 100% share of Real TV Lia Dolidze sold the company assets to Lali Egadze at the price of GEL 30,000.

According to Egadze, Real TV will be renamed as Channel Third, that is supposed to be a non-political television.

- TV Company Saqartvelo became the owner of 51%  share of the broadcasting company Rustavi 2. The partner  meeting of November 13 decided that TV Company Sakartvelo hands over to Rustavi its movable and immovable property in exchange for the 51% share. The former owners of Rustavi 2 are still contesting their rights to the TV Company, as an attempt to reclaim Rustavi 2.

- The owner of the Tabula magazine, Civic Education Fund bought the license of TV Company Saqartvelo on October 12, while Tabula has turned from a weekly edition into a monthly one. Director of the Civic Education Fund Tamar Chergoleishvili, the spouse of the Security Council Secretary Giga Bokeria, is the editor of Tabula.

6. Interference into Journalists’ Professional Activities

The pre-election period marked the emergence of journalists working on behalf of so called MediaGroup and other means of media, whose existence remains unproved, nor their prepared materials have appeared anywhere. Their targets were journalists of Info 9 and TV 9- as they tried to hamper their working process, were asking questions regarding Bidzina Ivanishvili and awaiting the journalists at their houses. The interference in the work of TV 9 and Info 9 journalists had ceased two months earlier before the election. The inter-agency body of the Security Council reacted to that occasion.

7. Council for Switchover to Digital Broadcasting

On December 7 the first sitting of the Council for Switchover to Digital Broadcasting was opened at Sheraton Metechi Palace, Tbilisi. The Council was assembled based on the December 5 order issued by the Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development. According to the regulations the Council shall shape the policy for the switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting and draft the plan of events to be carried for that purpose. Dimitri Kumsiashvili, First Deputy Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development is heading the Council. Along with the proxies of the aforementioned agency the Council will be manned with the representatives of the Ministry of Finance, Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC), NGOs, Technical University as well as TV directors – 47 members in total.

Currently Georgia conducts analogue broadcasting, switchover to digital broadcasting is an international obligation. June 17, 2015, is deadline set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for the European countries.

8. Changes at Public Broadcaster

On December 13 GPB’s Director General Giorgi Chanturia resigned, citing the failure to fulfill the plans set as a motive.

On December 14 the contest was announced for the vacancy. 143 applicants were running for the position, with five of them shortlisted. On December 26 GPB’s Board of Trustees elected Giorgi Baratashvili for the GPB top position. Previously Baratashvili served as the broadcaster’s technical director and following Chanturia’s resignation was the acting director general of the broadcaster.  

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